Native American culture for centuries has been heinously objectified and appropriated by Western and European exploitation and turned into objects for gaze in museums or institutions. It is common for Native American “art” to lose its cultural significance or spiritual meaning when put in context of a museum display box, and can signify great disrespect and inconsideration for the peoples of which the objects rightfully belong or came from. In this current day, however, there are Native American artists utilizing modern forms of art to make statements about Native American exploitation. James Luna is one of these artists, who’s live “Artifact Piece” represents a powerful message about American Indian survival as a race and their often unacknowledged presence in the modern world. In this artistic piece, Luna lays barely clothed in a display box of sand for museum visitors to speculate.
Luna remains perfectly still and causes onlookers to second guess themselves as to whether or not he is in fact a living being. This notion alone challenges the traditional sense of separation between the western view and native culture, as guests are forced to see native culture in a living and present form for a change. Luna’s vulnerability into making himself into an exhibit for gaze challenges onlookers to feel a sense of discomfort with the proposition of objectifying an entire culture for the sake of western curiosity and entertainment. In some performances of his piece, he would add a verbal element where he would speak into a microphone while laying in the display case. This adds another whole level of depth as spectators now are given the opportunity to hear the thoughts and feelings of the “Artifact” itself. Luna for once gives the native artifact a chance to hold power over the audience by having a voice. Our class guest speaker, Diva Zumaya, explained how often times a native human on display, Luna reinserts a sense of awareness for the actual people of whom outsiders are so used to disconnecting from the art of which they admire.